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Does Sex Work Beat Walmart Type Jobs?

The choice to do sex work mostly boils down to the bottom line.

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Here’s something they never asked in The Book of Questions: Would you rather be a Walmart worker or a sex worker?

David Henry Sterry considered that very issue in a recent article on Sterry signed up for sex work as a student in Hollywood at the age of 17 when he found that his income from a fried chicken restaurant did not pay the bills. His problem was one of basic math. Sterry's expenses ran to $500 per month; his wages only covered half of that. If he wanted to keep a roof over his head and food in his mouth, he would have to think of something else.

The “something else” came in the form of an offer to “party” with some local women for $100 per hour. Sterry considered the stigma, but decided that economically, it was worth it to “cross a line in the sand” because he had few skills that would translate into money. As he explains, the moral value of chicken frying did not trump the idea of making enough to survive :

“There’s a definite sociological pecking order when it comes to employment. If you ask a hundred people whether they’d rather be a heart surgeon or an elephant-shit shoveler, there’s a pretty good chance that at least 99 of them would extend their hand for the scalpel. Most people would say that frying chicken makes you a better person than selling sex. If you tell someone their mother is a whore, they will not invite you to lunch…But as a 17-year-old, I didn’t see frying chicken as being on the other side of that line. It didn’t seem morally or intrinsically better—and economically, it was roughly 66 times worse.”

Sterry goes on to describe the plight of a friend named Cindy, an attractive Los Angeles woman in her mid-20s who, while smart and well-read, did not finish high school. With two sons to support, she found herself struggling with irregular minimum wage jobs that paid $7.50 per hour. It wasn’t enough to live on by a long shot. Finally, she applied for a job at Walmart, which paid slightly more at $8.80 per hour. She didn’t get the job. This final blow to her self-esteem prompted Cindy to try out dancing at a strip club, where she found, to her surprise, that the women shared a deep camaraderie and seemed to have far more self esteem as they strutted their stuff than she ever had working at menial, low-wage jobs.

Suddenly, Cindy was making thousands of dollars a week. She was able to move into a three-bedroom apartment and buy her sons art lessons and karate classes. Cindy started escorting certain customers and made even more, earning enough to buy a good car. The downside is that she has nightmares about her family, especially her sons, finding out what she really does for a living (they think she’s a waitress at a fancy restaurant). But this anxiety is a price she’s willing to pay for being able to take care of herself and her family. At least for now.

Student debt, a crappy economy, dead-end jobs, lack of childcare, layoffs. There are many reasons why a person would be driven to think outside the box to earn a living, and some consider sex work to be a perfectly valid career choice.

In a sequel to the bestseller Freakonomics, authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner dedicated the first chapter in the book to the question, "Why aren't more women prostitutes?" They acknowledge that streetwalking is a tough slog, but they also point to the perks of being a high-end escort, including high wages and flexible hours. Why wouldn’t a woman want to do it?